The OECD has published its annual review of education statistics, Education at a Glance. As ever, this provides a wealth of data that together contribute to provide a fascinating insight into the world of education in developed countries.
The report raises concerns about changes in the extent of social mobility. Averaged across all countries in the report, upward mobility across generations - measured by the proportion of a younger generation that is better educated than its forebears - is falling as new cohorts enter the labour market, and downward mobility is increasing. The report describes this as a 'setback' though in truth it may just be an artefact of the data. At a time when a high proportion of parents are well educated, it is naturally less possible for a high proportion of their children to be better educated than their parents.
Averaged across the countries in the sample, graduation from upper secondary level has continued to rise steadily over recent years, and has reached a high of 84% in 2012. By way of contrast, the report finds that the graduation rate from tertiary education fell slightly in 2012; this result should however be treated with considerable caution, since some countries (Luxembourg, Chile) with low rates entered the data only in 2012, while other data for this year are not yet available for other countries (Australia, the UK) with high participation rates in higher education. Overall, the picture is one of continued high and rising levels of enrolment in post-compulsory education.
This is unsurprising, since the incentives to participate in education remain very high. Averaging across the OECD countries, higher education graduates earn around 60% more than upper secondary graduates - who in turn earn around a third more than lower secondary graduates. These proportions have remained virtually unchanged over the last decade and a half at least. The distributions are somewhat more compressed in some northern European countries (notably Sweden, Denmark and Estonia) but are remarkably consistent across the other countries in the data set.
While the concerns raised in the report about social mobility may overstate the extent to which younger generations are disadvantaging themselves by not investing as much as their parents in education, the fact that education is a major driver of individual progress remains as true as ever.
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